Natural Foods Merchandiser

Proteins and Fats and Carbs, Oh My

Avoiding fatty foods hasn't helped anyone lose weight, according to a July 7 New York Times Magazine article.

For more than 20 years, Americans have been convinced that if they eat less fat and more carbohydrates they will lose weight, lower cholesterol and, ultimately, because of their improved diet, live longer. Instead, the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet may be what's responsible for the obesity epidemic that began in 1980.

A better plan, Gary Taubes writes in the Times, is to eat fat, which makes people feel full, so they naturally cut calories. When they lose weight, they reduce their risk for heart disease. This is the message Robert Atkins, M.D., has been preaching for 30 years with his best-selling book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution (D. McKay Co., 1972).

The low-fat gospel has reigned supreme for so long that the medical establishment is unable to consider alternative explanations, Atkins said.

"Major health organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Dietetic Association, and governmental agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have a vested interest in perpetuating the hypothesis that low fat is the answer to the problem of obesity—despite all evidence to the contrary," Atkins said. "The USDA created the food-guide pyramid, which recommends six to 11 servings of bread and grains daily. If this approach worked, we would have a thinner population instead of an increasingly heavier one."

Brie Turner-McGrievy, M.S., R.D., staff dietitian with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., disagrees with one fact reported in the article—that fat consumption has been decreasing since 1980.

The National Center for Health Statistics showed that on average people ate about 81 grams of fat per day in 1980; by 1991 it was up to 86 grams.

"The thing is," she said, "the percentage of calories from fat has been going down, and that's because on top of increasing our fat intake we've increased the intake of a lot of other things that don't have fat—sodas, fat-free cookies, fat-free brownies."

Cheese consumption alone, per person, was 15 pounds per year in 1975; by 1999 it had doubled to 30 pounds, Turner-McGrievy said. "We've definitely increased the intake of fat and fatty foods and all foods. So the conclusion is that the percentage has gone down and we've still gained weight. Well, we have to look at it a little deeper than that."

Turner-McGrievy adds that people do lose weight on the Atkins diet, but that good health is more than weight. She said she'd like to see research comparing a high-fat, high-protein diet with a low-fat vegetarian or vegan diet as well as comparing it with a high-carbohydrate diet.

Atkins had praise for the Times article. "Gary Taubes is one of the rare breed of investigative medical writers who actually do their homework and report the facts," Atkins said. He added that he hoped it would inspire other writers and researchers to investigate the issue further.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 8/p. 1

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